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Two Juries To Decide Fates Of Elderly Mother, Caretaker In ALS Patient’s Death

Trial of Marjorie Good and Wanda Nelson expected to last through January

Marjorie Good appeared Tuesday in Superior Court in Santa Maria, where a judge ruled she and co-defendant Wanda Nelson would have separate juries in their trial on charges they murdered Good’s daughter, ALS patient Heidi Good.
Marjorie Good appeared Tuesday in Superior Court in Santa Maria, where a judge ruled she and co-defendant Wanda Nelson would have separate juries in their trial on charges they murdered Good’s daughter, ALS patient Heidi Good. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Selection of two juries began Tuesday for the trial of an elderly mother and a caregiver charged with murdering an ALS patient in Solvang two years ago.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores granted a motion to have separate panels consider the cases against Marjorie Good, 89, and Wanda Nelson, 63.

The women are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy in the March 2013 death of Heidi Good, who had a prolonged battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

Good is the alleged murder victim’s mother; Nelson was her longtime caretaker.

Starting Tuesday afternoon, Flores began hearing hardship cases for those unable to sit on a jury for the lengthy trial, which is expected to span the Thanksgiving, Christmas and other upcoming holidays.

He said he planned to tell potential jurors they could expect the trial to run through late January. 

“That’s going to cause a lot of hardship problems, but we’ll get it done,” Flores said.

Wanda Nelson sits with her attorney, Lori Pedego, in Superior Court in Santa Maria on Tuesday. Nelson and co-defendant Marjorie Good will have separate juries in their trial on charges they murdered Good’s daughter, ALS patient Heidi Good. Click to view larger
Wanda Nelson sits with her attorney, Lori Pedego, in Superior Court in Santa Maria on Tuesday. Nelson and co-defendant Marjorie Good will have separate juries in their trial on charges they murdered Good’s daughter, ALS patient Heidi Good. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The judge planned for Good’s defense attorney, David Bixby, and prosecutors to first pick a panel to consider her fate, and then immediately have prosecutors and defense attorney Lori Pedego begin selecting jurors to consider the evidence against the caregiver. 

The process is expected to take a few weeks, with the dual juries likely to start hearing evidence in early December.

As many as 70 witnesses could be called to testify in the trial.

On Tuesday morning, the defense attorneys and prosecutors argued legal matters before halting to work out a solution to Good’s inability to hear the talks.

After she rejected court-assisted hearing equipment as not helpful, Good decided to use her regular hearing devices as the judge reminded attorneys to speak into their microphones. 

At one point, she said she could hear the judges and attorneys.

“I just don’t understand the court procedure,” Good said.

“That’s a different issue,” the judge said, adding her defense attorney would explain the happenings. 

In other pre-trial matters, the defense attorneys argued the prosecution’s paperwork didn’t include facts, but conclusions. 

Bixby questioned how prosecutors know the defendants had a pre-existing conspiracy to kill Heidi, adding that citing the fact the women were good friends and disliked Heidi’s husband Stephen Swiacki don’t add up to evidence.

“That’s the sort of nonsense that is riddled through this brief,” Bixby said.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser said the trial brief spells out the evidence with references to statements included in the five volumes of transcripts of testimony from the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury proceedings. 

Pedego said prosecutors should be able to cite specific evidence of a conspiracy, 

“Evidence of a conspiracy is what is entirely lacking,” Pedego said.

“They don’t have evidence,” Bixby added. “They have a bunch of speculation and guesses.”

The judge said he would rule on the assorted pre-trial matters Thursday morning. Courts are closed Wednesday for Veterans Day.

At one point during the debate, Gresser asked the judge to admonish Good to not call the prosecutor a derogatory name. 

“This is a very difficult and emotional case for all of us involved here, so I want everybody just to maintain their composure as much as possible,” Flores said. "There will be no name calling; I'm not going to allow that here in my courtroom."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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